WASHINGTON (AP) _ Vice President Dick Cheney said Thursday night that a too-soon withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq could send victorious militants spreading out, with some flocking to Afghanistan to fight alongside a regrouping Taliban. He demanded that the Democratic-controlled Congress support President Bush's military buildup ``on time and in full.''
Speaking before a receptive audience of conservatives, the vice president _ just back from a trip that included unannounced stops in Afghanistan and Pakistan _ sharply criticized efforts by some Democrats to restrict funds for additional troops or to place restrictions on their deployment.
While noting that the House had already passed a nonbinding resolution voicing opposition to Bush's Iraq policy, Cheney said that ``very soon both houses of Congress will have to vote on a piece of legislation that is binding.'' The legislation would, among other things, help pay for the additional 21,500 troops Bush is sending to Iraq.
``I sincerely hope the discussion this time will be about winning in Iraq, not about posturing on Capitol Hill. Anyone can say they support the troops, and we should take them at their word. But the proof will come when it's time to provide the money and the support,'' Cheney said. ``We expect the House and the Senate to meet those needs on time and in full.''
The vice president spoke at an annual dinner of the Conservative Political Action Conference. The audience included conservative activists, leaders and policymakers.
Cheney mentioned his just-ended visits to Afghanistan and Pakistan. In Afghanistan, a bombing at the gate of the military base where the vice president was staying killed 23 people, including two Americans. The Taliban claimed the attack was aimed at Cheney, but officials said it posed no real threat to him.
During his visit to Pakistan, Cheney expressed concern to President Gen. Pervez Musharraf over al-Qaida's regrouping inside Pakistan's tribal regions and an expected Taliban spring offensive in neighboring Afghanistan.
``If our coalition withdrew before Iraqis could defend themselves, radical factions would battle for dominance. The violence would likely spread throughout the country and be very difficult to contain. Having tasted victory in Iraq, the (militants) would look for new missions. Many would head for Afghanistan to fight alongside the Taliban,'' Cheney said.
He said others would head for capitals across the Middle East and work to undermine moderate governments. ``Still others would find their targets and victims in other countries on other continents. Such chaos and mounting danger does not have to occur. It is, however, the enemy's objective,'' Cheney said.
``In these circumstances, it's worth reminding ourselves that, like it or not, the enemy we face in the war on terror has made Iraq the primary front in that war,'' he added. Then, to laughter and applause, Cheney said, ``To use a popular phrase, this is an inconvenient truth.''
It was a play on the Academy Award-winning environmental documentary featuring former Vice President Al Gore, ``An Inconvenient Truth.''
``If you support the war on terror, then it only makes sense to support it where the terrorists are fighting us,'' Cheney said.
Cheney also recited a litany of conservative themes and goals, invoking the memory of Ronald Reagan and calling on Congress to ``make all tax cuts permanent'' that were enacted in Bush's first term.
``You've come to Washington at a very eventful time, with a new Congress at work and some very consequential debates under way,'' Cheney said.
``With a divided government, and strong feelings on both sides of the aisle, getting things done is a bit more of a challenge than it was before. But the American people expect results and the president and I are committed to working with Congress for the good of the country. What we will not do is abandon the conservative principles we ran on in 2000 and 2004.''